Is the German limousine still a byword for luxury? We found out with five months behind the wheel

Why we’re running it: to see if the latest S-Class maintains the model’s luxury car superiority, and whether this S500 eclipses the old V8

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Life with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Month 5

Is the limo as good as it was and still as good as it gets? Our final verdict is in - 8th May 2019

The trouble with coming up with a uniquely brilliant recipe for a car, as Mercedes-Benz has surely found quite a few times over the past 130 years, is that once you’ve achieved it, you’ve got to keep doing it. Mercedes people are better at it than most, luckily, especially when it comes to replacing the large, luxurious Mercedes-Benz S-Class saloon, seven iterations of which have graced the car market since 1972, and found a remarkable three million customers.

For most of the journey, the task has been a matter of doing the same thing better each time: the first Merc S500 started life with a nice smooth V8, and that’s what the sixth iteration (superseded not much more than a year ago) had too. But life’s changing fast. The latest S-Class ditches the time-honoured V8 in favour of an ultra-frugal 3.0-litre twin-turbo six, assisted imperceptibly (except when you calculate fuel and CO2 output) by a 48V integrated starter generator that adds an unimpressive-sounding 22bhp, but a much meatier 184lb ft.

The two powerplants produce a total of 435bhp and 384lb ft – with the electric motor contributing the best of its oomph as soon as it starts to turn – so the resulting performance (a governed 155mph and a 0-62mph of just 4.8sec) is extremely respectable.

That is helped by the fact this 5.3-metre long-wheelbase saloon (S500s only come in extended guise, with sporty AMG Line bodywork) weighs near enough to 2000kg at the kerb, which admittedly doesn’t make it a lightweight but nevertheless undercuts the big SUVs people choose as alternatives in this class by an easy half-tonne. Chuck in a big saving in frontal area over, say, a Range Rover or a G-Wagen and you can soon see why the S-Class’s performance was one of the delights of close to 10,000 miles our various ‘owners’ put under its wheels in around six months.

The truth about the S500’s performance is that it’s every bit as “S-Classy” as ever. The performance is there. The feeling of never-ending torque is there. The faint V8 woofle isn’t, of course, but this is meant to be an ultra-quiet car. For such a big, capable, luxurious, powerful machine, a combined fuel consumption of 38.2mpg and CO2 of just 169g/km are extraordinary figures. Then there’s the 470-mile cruising range, another big benefit.

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Even though our S-Class always seemed to be moving (it took a healthy complement of Autocaristes both to the France-based Car of the Year judging at the turn of the year and the Geneva show in March), it would have done even more miles with us had it not been for an early accident. Our car, which stopped suddenly for a wayward schoolkid in a crowded suburb, was smartly rear-ended by a lady in a venerable yellow Astra who – let’s be charitable – didn’t have anywhere as efficient a non-skid, obstacle-aware braking system, and couldn’t stop in time. Lucky it was us in front, probably. She might have hit the little girl we avoided. Still, our S-Class went away for a few weeks to be repaired…

Talking options, our car bristles with them. UK-specced S-Classes are very well equipped as standard, but we had £25,000 worth of extras. The gadgetry included lots of nice-to-haves such as soft-closing doors and bootlid and a fabulous Burmester hi-fi, plus seriously clever stuff like the Active Distance Assist Distronic system, which adjusts your pre-set speed if the car ‘sees’ (via its Comand navigation) approaching bends, roundabouts, junctions or toll booths.

If you read us regularly, you’ll know Andrew Frankel ran a BMW 7 Series at the same time as I had the S-Class, and the presence of the two together brought out their strengths and weaknesses – a list one might have predicted given the characteristics these marques are known for. In isolation, the Benz was exceptionally smooth-riding and quiet, courtesy of its air suspension, and though it wore winter tyres for most of our tenure, road noise was low indeed. The steering was light and perhaps a tad indirect, but as accurate as is needed to manoeuvre a big car in tight spaces.

The BMW felt instantly sportier and its steering was somewhat heavier and more direct. Most preferred that. But the comparative road noise gave it a closer link with ordinary breeds (my judgment) and it didn’t have quite the magic carpet ride conferred by the Merc’s all-knowing, self-levelled air suspension.

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Durability? Really, nothing to report. The Merc’s matt Designo Magno Cashmere White paint job (£3650) is the first option we’d have dropped. It gets grubby quickly, and you’re always wondering about its durability. You’re scared to put the car through a car wash, and you always wonder how it will be in five years’ time. However, the rest of the car – its trim and upholstery – seemed entirely resistant to ageing, a notable S-Class feature over the generations.

And so to the burning question: is an S-Class still special? We believe it is. In car choice terms, it is at the pinnacle of logic: choosing something more expensive and more luxurious looks in danger of taking a buyer into ‘more money than good sense’ territory. It may not be quite as sporty as its BMW rival – its ability to deliver driving exhilaration rather limited by soft suspension, light steering and (for use in congested parts of the UK) too-generous bodily proportions – but it is still special.

Second Opinion

To me, these cars always come down to ride and refinement. And in both these regards, even in the autumn of the current model cycle, the S-Class continues to reign supreme. That said, the 7 Series is closer than it’s ever been, and I don’t yet buy hybrid over diesel, especially in a longdistance weapon such as this.

Andrew Frankel

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Love it:

magic carpet ride And that’s even with winter tyres. Not quite as responsive to the wheel as a 7 Series but pretty damn good.

straight six electric Effortlessly matches the refinement of the old-school V8s and 40-50% more fuel efficient.

well in command The screen-based infotainment system was efficient, gave access to a terrific hi-fi and was easy to use.

Loathe it:

length: less, please If you want an S500, you have to take the long wheelbase, which makes the car seem very big.

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Shine: more, please Our matt white treatment looked dowdy if the car wasn’t squeaky-clean. Hard to own.

Final mileage: 9790

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The perfect tool for the job - 27th March 2019

I can hardly imagine a car more suited to the journey, nor a journey better suited to the car. Three friends and I took the S500 from Bristol to a wedding in Norwich. The big Benz was spacious, comfy and serene. It averaged a little over 30mpg, but didn’t quite have the range to cover the full distance on a single tank. Arriving in a flashier car than the bride wasn’t my finest move.

Dan Prosser

Mileage: 8820

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Health spa on wheels refreshes the parts other luxury cars cannot reach - 27th February 2019

Does anybody else find themselves craving from their everyday car some quality or capability that their current set of wheels doesn’t offer?

Perhaps it’s a motoring journalist thing, but I can spend six months driving an Audi R8 every day and long for a humble estate car, one I can chuck all my stuff into and leave parked anywhere overnight. If I’ve been using a big car for a while, I’ll pine for something tiny and light that’ll nip through urban traffic like a child pickpocket darting through a busy marketplace.

My previous car was a petrol Skoda Octavia vRS that rode rather more firmly than I would have liked. The car I used before that was a diesel vRS that was comfier but still quite stiff and before that I spent several months in a modified BMW M135i that was brilliantly damped on a B-road but unyielding around town.

So for a couple of years now I’ve been craving a comfortable car, one that rides as though it’s suspended from above rather than in contact with the road surface beneath. Steve Cropley’s Mercedes S500 therefore arrives with me, if only for a short while, not a moment too soon.

Having used the car only a handful of times as I write this, I am pleased to say the S-Class really does ride well. Well enough, certainly, that the patches of rough and potholed Tarmac near to my house that have made me wince twice daily for two years are now smothered beautifully.

The S500’s ride is undoubtedly improved by its wheels, which at 19in in diameter are not as enormous as they might be. They’re shod in doughy winter tyres for the time being, too, which will contribute a little more bump compliance to the overall suspension system.

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In many ways a very large, luxurious saloon is exactly what I need since so much of my driving is on the motorway. On the other hand, living in a city will invariably make driving a car as long as a five-a-side football pitch – this is the long-wheelbase model, after all – quite frustrating at times. Multi-storey car parks could be interesting, for instance.

The thing about the very best luxury cars, however, is that they steer well enough to make them easy to thread along a narrow city street, one that might be lined with cars. I remember that was what struck me most the first time I drove a Rolls-Royce Wraith and, as far as I can tell so far, the S500 does something similar. Its various parking cameras also make low-speed manoeuvring a doddle. I’m intrigued to see if, on balance, I prefer a bigger car for everyday driving or a smaller one.

Along with its comfortable ride, the big Mercedes is proving to be exceptionally refined. It’s quiet at all speeds, the petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain scarcely makes any noise and the front seats are supportive in all the right ways and so relaxing to sit in that I’m wondering about ordering a pair for my living room. I have yet to spend two or three hours in their embrace at once, but if I emerge from the cabin after even the longest drive with a single ache or pain, I will be amazed.

I was interested to read, finally, that Mr Cropley’s preference after driving the S500 back-to-back with another of Autocar’s luxurious long-term test cars, a BMW 740Ld, was very much for the Mercedes. He pointed out quite rightly that the 7 Series felt smaller and sportier (it is both of those things), but that he preferred the more relaxed gait of the S-Class.

Me? If I had to answer that right now I would say my preference was for the BMW, but a few weeks from now I will be able to say for certain.

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Love it:

Comfort zone Short of the ultra-expensive luxury cars of this world, this S-Class has always been on top for refinement and comfort. And it still is.

Loathe it:

Urban driving This long-wheelbase S500 is enormous at 5.2-metres long. Great for rear-seat passengers, less so when driving in town.

Dan Prosser

Mileage: 7168

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Size isn’t everything? Let’s find out - 6th February 2019

Stepping from a Skoda Octavia vRS estate into an S-Class that Steve Cropley has kindly lent me should be interesting. The big Mercedes will have the Skoda trumped in terms of luxury, refinement, gadgets, cabin space and prestige, but part of me suspects I’ll find using such a big saloon every day a bit of a nuisance, particularly in town.

Dan Prosser

Mileage: 6833

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32 Mercedes s class 2018 lt hero static

Life with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Month 4

Welcome to swap shop. This week: luxury cars are exchanged - 16th January 2018

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Cruising northwards on the M5 between Christmas and new year, I found it hard to believe, given that I’d already amassed 6000 miles in our Mercedes S-Class longtermer, that more miles would teach me anything extra. Especially since I was driving a BMW 740d at the time.

However, as has been revealed in these pages, the grand Autocar plan was always for me to swap ‘my’ S-Class with Andrew Frankel for ‘his’ BMW 7 Series, to compare impressions of two cars with similar missions. This day, after a fuelling session and a chat in the Michaelwood service area – equidistant from our addresses – we made the swap and set off homeward to start investigating differences and similarities.

Such variances are never more vividly felt than in your first few miles behind the wheel, so long as you have firmly quelled the hi-fi. After the silky, almost silent Mercedes, the BMW’s engine note was suddenly very noticeable. Not unpleasant, but always there, even when cruising on the motorway at 60mph in top gear.

As speeds rose, I started to notice a rustling around the exterior mirrors. Other issues were a lack of the silken, relaxed-rate ride I’d come to expect after several months in the Merc, and a tendency for the BMW to tramline in a minor (although slightly untidy) way at low speeds. Above 50-60mph, for reasons I still don’t understand, the car began to track like an arrow. So my early impression was that this 7 Series simply wasn’t as all-round refined as its rival. Still excellent. Not quite five-star.

But life’s never as easy as that. I turned off the motorway and immediately began to notice the extra directness of the 7 Series’ steering and the greater accuracy of its foot controls. Mercs – both the pre-hybrid models and this latest mild-hybrid six – have a somewhat stately response to the accelerator and here was proof. The BeeEm was more alert and alive. The car seemed to turn more neatly, too. You really can detect the difference of the 0.3m between the cars in both wheelbase and overall length. The BMW feels almost sporty. The Merc is amazingly refined, but limo-ish.

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Quality? I’d give it narrowly to the S500, on surface quality and architecture. And because I prefer the latest Merc switchgear and graphics. That little hi-fi volume roller on the console comprehensively beats the BMW’s dial arrangement, and it’s something you’re always using. However, each of these cars is so far ahead of ordinary models that they’re really only shaded by the likes of Bentley and Rolls.

Seats? My missus prefers the BMW and I like the Merc – and even now I’ve got the feeling that more time spent understanding the complexities of their adjustments would net comfort improvements. Here’s the big question: am I looking forward to getting the S500 back again? Unequivocally, yes, even though the BMW is shorter, steers a bit better, is more agile and goes further on the tank.

It’s the comfort and refinement that tell for me, these characteristics reinforced by the performance of the Mercedes’ latest powertrain. Not very surprising, you may think, because these are the very qualities that began making the difference between the S-Class and rivals at its debut in 1972, and have been doing so ever since.

Love it:

OVERALL REFINEMENT Its combination of mechanical refinement and outstanding onroad comfort and smoothness is simply the best going.

Loathe it:

SHEER BULK ‘Loathe’ is a bit strong but there are times when this long-wheelbase S seems too bulky for comfort. Would love a SWB one, same spec.

Mileage: 6207

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Life with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Month 3

Mixing with McLarens - 9th January 2019

This poorly composed pic shows our S500 parked with a couple of recent trade-ins at McLaren’s new Leeds dealership. We were there to drive McLarens to the company’s deeply impressive composite centre in Sheffield. The Maccas were brilliant, but it was just as enjoyable to drive the world’s finest open-roads cruiser back home to London.

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Mileage: 5350

Mercedes benz s class at mclaren

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Ample room for parking is a must - 5th December 2018

We’ve taken to parking the big Merc in a new, roomy space near the office, not commuting much but grabbing it every time a long trip is in the offing. Especially helpful is the S500’s easy-to-operate voice-operated comms package. It’s amazing how much low-level business you can get done while drifting smoothly and quietly along motorways.

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Mileage: 4038

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Life with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Month 2

We herald a welcome return after rear-end crash annoyance - 21 November 2018

If you’ve been waiting patiently for news of our mighty white S500 hybrid, you’ll have noted a distinct information hiatus. About the time our first report ran in early October, we were arranging crash repairs – after a lady in a venerable yellow Vauxhall Astra hit it resoundingly up the backside at about 20mph.

It was a classic suburban accident. The traffic ahead came to an abrupt halt, the big Benz demonstrated its superb retardation abilities by stopping dead straight and in plenty of time despite a split-grip situation (dry road crown, wet kerbside) but, sadly, the Vauxhall did not.

The impact felt quite severe so it was surprising to see a lack of visual damage (in marked contrast to the rearranged grille/wings/bonnet front of the Astra), but it was soon clear the S-Class’s shock-absorbing mechanisms beneath the rear bumpers had been heavily disturbed, and the exhaust system (including catalytic converters) had moved a long way on its mountings.

Off went the Big S to a firm of authorised Mercedes repairers with a hope we’d see it again in three to four weeks. So it proved. The Benz came back to us without the slightest sign of recent difficulties, not even a whiff of paint or glue. The only change was the application of a special coating that protects matt finishes like the specialist Magno Cashmere White of our car (a £3650 option that stops it looking like wedding transport).

Mercedes benz s class long term review repaired bumper

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Now that the S-Class is with us again, it feels as if the family is complete. In its first weeks it rapidly began to fulfil a role no disparate car fleet truly needs, but which soon proves extremely nice to have. The S-Class has become our standard – for quietness, for cabin space and comfort, for low road noise, for brilliance at bump-absorption, for discreet body control and for injecting ease into long journeys.

What it doesn’t do very well is fit into our rather confined car park: the S500 (and most UK Mercedes-Benz S-Classes) come only in long wheelbase form that adds another 100mm between front and rear wheels – all of it going into rear leg room – and that extra is enough to put its elegant alloys at considerable risk from the ravaging kerbs in our usual multi-storey, designed for Morris Marinas. So we’re keeping it in safety, a little further away.

Mind you, the S500 spends a lot of its time much further from the office. As I write, it’s wafting back from Cardiff where it was perfect transport for four London rugby lovers who used it for the Wales vs Australia game. Another 450-mile round trip is scheduled before the weekend. Various of us are trying to find excuses for journeys to France and beyond, consoled by the fact that even when you’re pressing on (as much as you can these days) this petrol-electric powertrain will reward you with fuel mileage in the 30s. And fine stability, grip and steering in tight going.

Faults? We’ll have to look harder. Nit pickers might find the sheer profusion of switches and controls a challenge. And a couple of tiny touchpads on the steering wheel might strike you as fiddly at first. But at the car’s collection I had an hour’s briefing from one of the technical experts Mercedes makes available to all its new car customers, so I feel I’ve got it taped.

As you might have read, I’m soon to swap the S500 with Andrew Frankel for his BMW 7 Series, likely to present the Merc with its highest hurdle in our ownership so far.

Love it:

A TOUCH OF CLASS All-encompassing refinement. Whatever the surface, it deals with it better than you’d expect.

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Loathe it:

THE MULTI-STOREY STORY Loathe is too strong, but the longer wheelbase is limiting. Even without the extra 100mm, an S is spacious.

Mercedes benz s class long term parked

Mileage: 3031

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Life with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Month 1

Welcoming the S-Class to the fleet - 01 September 2018

Since 1972, we’ve known this one incontrovertible fact: if you want to know where the automobile is up to in terms of practical luxury and comfort, you’ll find the answer in the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

We’re not talking here about ‘bespokeness’. That’s usually a matter of richer-than-you owners attempting to one-up their peers. But if you want to investigate the latest and highest standards of mechanical refinement, big-car efficiency, seat and cabin comfort and driving ease brought by ever-more-ingenious gadgetry, the latest S-Class will provide you with the answers.

Merc’s biggest saloon sits on one of those peculiar pedestals in motoring like the Porsche 911: it has decent rivals but no true equivalents. That Mercedes has been able to keep it this way for 45 years is a staggering achievement, and (we believe) good reason to add one to our test fleet.

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But why an S500? Three reasons: first, the S500 has always been the mainstream choice for people who weren’t simply buying a diesel ‘airport car’. Second, I’m this car’s custodian and I’ve already had two S500s over the years. How interesting to investigate their differences and surprising similarities.

Third, for as long as ‘S500’ has been appearing on Mercedes bootlids, the variant’s motive power has been a meaty V8, until now. This latest car has a new 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six with a 48V integrated starter-generator (ISG) providing assistance and collecting braking energy.

How interesting to see whether the traditional S500 virtues – imperious smoothness and poke and no noise unless you really insist – are delivered by the new model.

In the UK, an S500L saloon starts at £86,330 on the road, which sounds pretty reasonable for what you get, especially since the only 500 you can buy gets AMG Line body bits to make it look more aggressive and sporty – and a lot less like an airport car. Egged on by contacts at Mercedes, we added a collection of extras that ended up costing just over £25,000 which, given that extras are traditionally high mark-up items for car makers, gives you a pretty clear view of where they make their money.

In summary, our gadgetry consists of four comprehensive option packs (Premium Plus, Driving Assistance, Executive equipment and Exclusive nappa leather) plus four individual options: night view (£2080), privacy glass (£345), Designo matt white paint (£3650) and intelligent rear belts (£995). The Premium Plus pack (£5395) adds stuff like soft-close doors, a mega hi-fi and a 360deg camera. The Driving Assistance pack (£1695) adds active distance control, steering, braking and blind-spot assist and a gizmo that will adjust your speed into bends. The Executive equipment (£4600) provides extra levels of comfort front and rear, plus stuff like roller-blinds for the rear window, and the Exclusive nappa leather pack (£6890) trims the big Mercedes in the best-looking materials available.

20 Mercedes s class 2018 lt seat massager

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In short, our S-Class is a white car whose body addenda, 19in AMG wheels and white matt paint take it about as far away from the dreaded ‘wedding car’ look as it’s possible to get, while preserving a limo-look that promises exactly what you get when you first set this car in motion: a class-topping luxury motoring experience.

The car hardly moves when you start it. Straight sixes are famously smooth, and the 48V ISG is large and powerful, so the usual ‘ruh-ruh-ruh’ just isn’t there. There’s silence, you press the start button and there’s a distant hum, and you’re hard-pressed to determine when one changed to the other. That’s refinement, and it speaks for the way so many things operate in this car.

The power unit drives through a seamless nine-speed automatic gearbox. There are two regimes, Sport and Comfort, which vary how long lower ratios are held. There are paddles if you insist on changing gear yourself, but the decisions the ’box makes on its own are so flawless that you soon leave it to its own devices, except for one situation: you’ll find yourself using the gears for engine braking on long hills. The ISG merrily garners braking energy on downgrades (there’s a meter to show it happening) but there are times when you need more engine braking to slow two tonnes of kerb weight.

It’s a big car. You have to take care with the generous front overhangs and with kerbing the rear wheels in tight corners. The S500 sighs about town almost as if it has no motive power at all, but the driver will always need to steer accurately, simply because it’s nearly 5.3m long and occupies more road than most.

On arterial roads and motorways, it’s marvellous. In Comfort, it has a spectacularly capable secondary ride that obliterates ripples and ruts while allowing some gentle body motion to gently signal its softness. The Sport setting gently reverses the position: the car is dead flat, in exchange for a minuscule increase in bump noise. You find yourself changing the setting according to your mood.

So far we’ve covered almost 1000 miles in the big Merc and the fuel mileage is running at about 34mpg. Much of that driving has been around town, but I have a feeling fast cruising is going to be this car’s true metier. I’m already thinking of ways to give the S500 its head, and I know I’m going to enjoy it.

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26 Mercedes s class 2018 lt rear seats

Second Opinion

No matter how well you might think you know the S-Class, it always manages to surprise and delight you with another bit of comfort, pace, drivability or refinement whenever you step into it. It’s this ability to surprise that makes it not just a great car, but a truly special one.

Jim Holder

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Mercedes-Benz S-Class S500L AMG-line specification

Prices: List price new £86,330 List price now £87,195 Price as tested £112,150 Dealer value now £63,250 Private value now £60,750 Trade value now £52,500 (part exchange)

Options:Premium Plus pack £5395, Driving Assistance pack £1695, Executive Equipment pack £4600, Nappa Leather pack £6890, Night View assist £2080, privacy glass £345, Designo Magno Cashmere White paint £3650, intelligent rear seat belts £995

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 38.9mpg Fuel tank 70 litres Test average 32.2mpg Test best 39.9mpg Test worst 22.5mpg Real-world range 470 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 4.8sec Top speed 155mph (governed) Engine 6 cyls in line, 2999cc, twin-turbo, petrol, with 48V integrated starter generator Max power 435bhp at 5900-6100rpm Max torque 348lb ft at 1800-5500rpm Transmission 9-speed automatic Boot capacity 530 litres Wheels 8.5Jx19in, alloy Tyres 245/45Z R19 (front), 275/40Z R19 (rear) Kerb weight 2025kg

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Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £770 CO2 169g/km Service costs none Other costs crash repair, covered by insurance Fuel costs £1751 Running costs inc fuel £1751 Cost per mile 18 pence Depreciation £27,150 Cost per mile inc dep’n £2.99 Faults None

29 Mercedes s class 2018 lt steve cropley driving

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Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
abkq 11 April 2019

Whatever class this S class

Whatever class this S class is supposed to have is negated by the chav rear seats. Past S classes (or any Mercedes) would not have had what looks like a small town suburban type of sofa. Phantom has a simple elegant full width bench seat at the back (unless you order an OTT alternative), thats the kind of simple luxury that Mercedes nolonger understands.

chandrew 5 February 2019

Not sure which private users buy these

About half of the taxi drivers where I live use S-Classes (the others use V-Classes). Whilst none of the local grand hotels use Mercs (they use Teslas, Rolls, Bentleys or 7 series) I imagine a large percentage of sales are to hotels or airport car firms.

Private buyers seem to buy the next size down. Where we are there are lots of RS6s or posh SUVs.

In Asia owners of this size car are more likely to have drivers. So, who are the owner / drivers of such cars?

jagdavey 1 February 2019

Glad I'm not rich & famous..............

Glad I'm not rich & famous, 'cause if I was I'd have to drive one of these over engineered, over teched, over priced & over blinged monsters!!!! (I'll stick to me mini-metro, can park it anywhere without worrying a scratch would cost 5 grand to repair).